Thing One: Vendor Focused
So what's a vendor-focused conference?
Conferences are very expensive. In addition to the hotel bills (imagine what a ballroom costs compared to your $169/night room), food is over the top expensive. Chicken lump and lettuce salad: $40 per plate for lunch, $60 for dinner. Morning snack break $20 per person. Afternoon $30. And it goes up from there. A conference like this costs millions of dollars to put on.
So somebody has to pay for all that. There are two basic models, with hybrids possible.
Model One: Content Focused. In this model, the content is built up, speakers are signed up, attendees pay to be there. Attendees are lured because of content and vendors are a necessary part of the process. For example, a sponsor might pay to put on a seminar at SMB Nation, but it's up to them to make it appealing enough to get people to attend.
Once people are signed up (or based on past experience or promises of attendees), vendors choose to sponsor such events.
Revenue for paying the hotel bills comes from attendees and sponsors.
Model Two: Vendor Focused. In this model, vendors buy attendance. They define a demographic and pay money to get the attention of businesses that fit the demographic. Attendees get part or all of their attendance paid for, but they are expected to attend the events on their calendar. They are being paid to attend seminars.
In such cases, the content can sometimes be extremely sales-oriented.
For example, I sat through a presentation from an anti-virus company who felt the need to define bots and worms. I don't think anyone told him that this was a technical conference.
Thing Two: Content
Comptia's content was top-notch at this event.
There are a few ways to evaluate whether a conference was worthwhile. The primary criterion is whether I heard something, learned something, or was inspired by something that could change my business. Breakaway definitely did all those things for me.
Heard: Janet Schijns from Motorola gave some great perspective on the economy -- and some tough love. See my post on the subject of Don't Blame The Economy.
Learned: The Cloud Computing steering group was extremely educational. Other things were too, but this really stood out to me. One guy wanted to show off his "solution" but everyone else was interested in helping define the future. Participants ranged from vendors to VARs. My notes on this hour are totally golden.
Inspired: As I posted a few days ago, Bob Godgart's presentation on Cloud Computing was exactly what the industry needs. Right now, we're at the FUD stage of Cloud Computing - Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt. Bob gives a bright vision of the future - a VERY bright vision. Not only will we stay in business: We'll all make a bunch more money in more ways than we can today!
A good deal of the content was pushing the limits of "Small" and some was solidly in the "Medium" category. So as an SMB event, this one was high-S / low-M. My suspicion is that vendors paid to see more M folks in the audience. It was also low on the MSP model. Don't get me wrong. There were plenty of MSPs, but there were also plenty who really didn't care about that model.
Thing Three: Attendees
The other big criterion for a good conference is the people you get to hob-knob with in the hallways, at the breaks, over dinner, and "after hours."
Again, Breakaway was excellent. Of course I had my regular cadre of friends. But I met new and interesting people in the categories of both vendor and attendee. All of these categories bring value.
From old friends I find out what's going on, what trends they're seeing, and how they're reacting to our ever-changing environment. And the more times you connect with them in these environments, the deeper you dig into their business model and success strategies.
New and interesting vendors are just good "DNA" getting mixed into the community. And just because they're new to me doesn't mean they're new to business. Every person attending this event is sustaining a business well enough to be gone for a Monday-Thursday conference. So they've figured out some very important stuff about building a business you can step away from.
Vendor contacts are always great. Some vendors don't get it. In general these are the "hired guns" who go from city to city collecting business cards and giving the same message to 10,000 people a year. Those who do get it actually engage the audience, focus their presentations on the people in front of them, and make a sincere effort to participate at a human level.
One vendor really stands out to me for the Comptia Breakaway: Intel. Intel was front and center at the trade show. But were they pimping themselves? No. They bought expensive real estate right at the entrance so they could highlight a half dozen of their OEM manufacturers. In fact their give-away depended on visiting their OEM partners and learning about what they're doing.
I also had a lengthy one-on-one meeting with someone from Intel and found out about some really cool programs they've got. I'm going to sneak up to Portland and invite myself in to some meetings there.
Honorable Mention: The Dread Pirate Roberts
Derek De Vette from Diskeeper is one of the nicest people you could hope to hang out with.
So we're hanging around the Nine Lives Media booth (See The VAR Guy and MSP Mentor). Well, Joe and Amy left for meetings, so Derek and I just hung out.
Whenever someone came by, they assumed one of us was The VAR Guy. So we just pretended we were!
As we explained,
- The VAR Guy had grown so rich, he wanted to retire. He took me to his cabin and he told me his secret. "I am not The VAR Guy," he said. "My name is Ryan; I inherited the blog from the previous VAR Guy, just as you will inherit it from me. The man I inherited it from is not the real VAR Guy either. His name was Cummerbund. The real VAR Guy has been retired 15 years and living like a king in Patagonia."
Hey, what's the point of visiting a vendor booth if you can't destroy their reputation?
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